Convocation, 27 May 2002
Margaret G. Hicklingís speaking notes:

Mr. Chancellor, Madam President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the University of British Columbia for the great honour conferred upon me today, and to thank all those who supported the award. In particular, I would like to express my thanks to Alice Bell, another nurse, who has been a fierce supporter and guardian angel for nearly 20 years..

Children have always asked ,"Why, of all the jobs in the world, did you choose this one?" and,

"Arenít you embarrassed to stand up there and talk like a pervert?"

I explain that the information they will receive is like a science lesson. We call it Body Science.and scientists never say "yuck", they say "interesting".

Adults often need to know that this information saves lives and preserves a childhood . When I worked in prisons with sexual offenders, they told me that they avoided educated children and always looked for children who knew nothing.

Another reason to begin talking early is that it is so easy. Little ones have no emotional baggage about sexuality. They take it in like sponges.And they are so cute , too. As I tell you some of the funny stories , keep in mind that they have minds like engineers; they love the mechanical details. So, when I explained to a kindergarten how the man delivers the sperm, one little engineer said, "Wow! His penis stretches right across the room and into the momís vagina. Thatís so cool."

Of course, we tell all children that sex is for adults and that many families have rules about having sex. We would say: "You need to know the rules for your family" which prompted one little boy to shout out "Yeah, no feet on the couch."

Children have to contend with adults who didnít learn body science and tell children fanciful stories about where children come from. One mother told me about her well-educated five year old . When he saw the Disney movie "Dumbo" with all the storks delivering human and animal babies, he turned to his parents and said, " Who would ever believe that?"

There is a myth that the older generation will be conservative and not support educating young children. But, in my experience I have found that grandparents can be very helpful.

One mother told me about listening to her 5 and 7 year old daughters talk with each other after one of my body science lessons. The 5 year old asked, "Do you think mom and dad still have sex?". "Of course", was the nonchalant reply. "When?í asked the 5 year old , and the 7 year old replied "When we are at Grandmaís."

Young children have an uncanny way of telling the truth about our communities as well. The subject of bullying often arises when we are teaching children about sexual health. My colleague, Saleema Noon was talking with primary children about why some kids would be bullies. They eagerly suggested "because they are jealous of you", "cuz they donít like you", and then one First Nations girl put up her hand and said, "because they took your land?" I am haunted by that story.

Finally, Iíd like to suggest that sexual health education not only saves lives but enhances and enriches them too. In one intermediate class, I was explaining birth to the students , and had said that the contractions of the uterus in labour are important for teaching the baby how to breathe, and that they feel like giant hugs for the baby. One boy at the back of the class put his head down on his desk and seemed to be silently crying. I saw the teacher move to his side and I continued talking, not wanting the others to notice. After a few moments, he sat up, smiling and participating. Later I asked the teacher about it. She said, "Donít worry, Meg. When I asked if he was alright, he said, Yes, Miss Jones, these are happy tears. Remember, my mom died the day after I was born, but I never knew how much she loved me before she died."

In conclusion, I would like to share with you a prayer written by Ina Hughs, a famous American educator and child advocate. If prayer is not a personal habit of yours , you might substitute the word "work".

We pray for children everywhere
We pray for children who have not enough to eat,not enough direction , not
enough education, not enough medicine
We pray for children who are abused, starved,neglected,ignored
But we also pray for those who are spoiled, who wonít clean up their rooms,
remembering those who donít have a room to clean.
We pray for children who have many choices, remember those who have no choices.
We pray for the day when all children can be adored , carried when tired , fed when
hungry, can learn when they are ready, and
WE PRAY THAT NO CHILD WILL EVER BE LEFT BEHIND.

(paraphrased from "A Prayer from Children")

Congratulations to all the graduates, and thank you once again.